Putting Off and On
We begin by repeating 4:20 which we read yesterday: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” meaning that we are no longer to walk as the Gentiles or pagans walk. Now that we have been born again of the Spirit by saving faith in Christ Jesus, we are to walk in a completely different manner.
This manner of walking, about which we are to speak, involves two truths: one is that the way in which we are to walk as believers is impossible for us in and of ourselves. The Christian knows this; indeed, it was his sins and his native inability and weakness against his sinful nature that drove him to Christ. But a second truth is that since coming to know Christ, he has given us of his Holy Spirit so that, relying on the Spirit’s power working within, we may so walk in the way which was before impossible for us. And because of the Spirit’s presence within, Paul may exhort us: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, “Be what you are!” As people who have been born again, we are new creations” (1 Corinthians 5:17). The shattered image of God is slowly being restored through the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit as we are recreated after the image of Christ. We say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), and with Paul, “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
So here Paul uses the metaphor of putting off the old self and putting on the new self. In speaking of “self,” it is clear that he is not using this metaphor as if speaking of something as temporary as “clothing,” which we put off and on every day. No. In speaking of “self,” Paul includes our very lives, thoughts, words, and actions—anything that is of the old self—that self which we were before our rebirth—must be “put off,” and thus, disposed of. That self was indeed put to death at our conversion, but we must now be certain that the works of that old self are put to death. And we must now put on the new self—that self that is after the manner of Christ, that is, his life, thoughts, words, and actions. This self indeed came to life in our conversion, but we must now cultivate that new self, that new life. And doing so certainly includes Bible reading and prayer, but it must also include a changed life that reflects the life of Christ. Being and doing go together in the Christian life. We must certainly first be, but we must then do. And when the second does not follow the first, it makes all sincere Christians wonder, and makes for a terrible witness before the world.